Saturday, 17 March 2012

The (Invited) Grad School Visit

Since I returned recently from an invited grad school visit (and I’ve organized a few visits for philosophy grad students before), I thought it would be interesting to talk about what you should expect, should your philosopher be in the same situation.

So, let’s say that your philosopher was just accepted into a grad program (or several!) and was invited to visit the department. It is the season for such things, after all. What sorts of things should you expect to occur at such department visits?

[Note: This information does not apply to potential grad students who decide, on their own, to just go and visit a program before they apply. Departments will not wine and dine someone, nor will they pay for travel expenses or make much of an effort unless they have already accepted this person into a program. This is not like an undergraduate campus visit].

1. Much wooing.

One of the most difficult mental things to handle (in my opinion) is to switch gears from being the applicant to being the pursued. As an applicant, your philosopher had to try—on several levels—to impress the socks off an admissions committee. Your philosopher was just competing with hundreds of other qualified applicants for only a few positions. Now, all of a sudden, the tides have changed and your philosopher has become the pursued.

Departments will likely treat your philosopher to the best restaurants, alcohol, and very nice hotels. They will inundate your philosopher with meetings with their star grad students and professors. Your philosopher may even receive regular phone calls from a certain professor with whom they particularly want to work.

For you, one of the best parts about this is that if you go along with your philosopher on this visit (as a spouse or partner), you will also be treated to some of the wining and dining. The department will likely not pay for your travel expenses, but they will try to treat you well once you get there, as you might have some influence on your philosopher.

Now, it may seem from this description that the department is being a bot dishonest by only showing your philosopher the best of everything. This is true; they are being somewhat dishonest. Encourage your philosopher to ask the grad students serious questions at vulnerable times (after there has been some drinking, for example) so as to get a better idea of the “truth” about a program.

2. Information overload

Your philosopher is going to be absolutely bombarded with information on this grad school visit. Here are some methods that I used to help me stay focused and not feel too overwhelmed:

- Make a list of questions beforehand (I noted on my questions which ones I wanted to ask of which groups of people in certain situations).
- Take notes (during presentations, when speaking with people one-on-one, at all times!)
- Review these notes at the end of each day or at breaks (there will be very few breaks during a day, though)

Really, with these methods I avoided feeling too rushed and tired (while all of the other grads visiting at the same time as me were definitely exhausted at the end of each day). Be willing to talk over each day’s information with your philosopher, but understand if they are just too tired to talk, too!

3. Interest over-sharing

Your philosopher will probably have to explain her/his interest areas to professors and grad students about 100 times every day of the visit. Seriously. By the end of my visit I wondered why we were not given placards with our interests to hang around our necks the whole time.

Your philosopher will be tired of talking.

4. A tour of the living areas of the city

You and/or your philosopher can almost always find someone in a grad program to give you a tour of the area, and they will have opinions about the best places to live. Take advantage of these sorts of opportunities! Grad students especially have figured out what sorts of cheap places are good or bad to live in. Take notes so that you can have some sort of idea of where you might want to/not want to live if your philosopher chooses to attend this program.

For those of you who have never had to try and find an apartment in a college town before: it is very tricky to figure out where to live in such places. Apartments know that they can charge high rents in areas close to campus because undergrads will live there—regardless of how yucky they are. Most universities have some sort of system of transportation that can enable you to live farther away from the campus. This is why asking current grad students about apartment living conditions in the area is so important, though, because they will know the best and worst places to live in town (and they will know which units are not favored by undergraduates, which are the quietest, and which are not infested with roaches!).

As a note: In my experience, grad student housing is almost always not worth it. GSH will be overpriced, boring (like living in a dorm room), and cheaply thrown together.

I hope this guide helps you and your philosopher as you begin to receive invitations to visit grad programs. I wish all of you well in this admissions season!

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Small and Non-Exhaustive Academic Dictionary: Philosopher Edition

[Brief note: Your philosiologist is currently in that weird state of consciousness, which only comes about by being both on serious cold medicine and strong coffee at the same time. Forgive me for any strangeness today].

[Brief note #2: I will be out of town next week and may or may not compose my usual weekly entry on Saturday. I will be on a grad school visit—so excited!!!—so every single second of my day will probably be occupied with discussions, questions, and attempts to not embarrass myself. I will try to make it up to all of you with a post after I return].

[Brief note #3: I am so sorry that this post is so much more boring than usual. I am too nervous to really think about anything related to philosophy. Right now, I’m usually all of my powers to memorize key information about the department I’ll be visiting this week].

If you are in some sort of relationship with an academic philosopher (or an academic of any type), you will eventually need to know some of the “university lingo,” especially if you are coexisting with a philosopher. To save you some embarrassment, I’ve compiled some definitions of words thrown about in academia, and what they should mean to you.

1. Post-doctorate (post-doc): Usually a one-year, paid position in a department where the person does not have any teaching responsibilities but they have finished their PhD and are expected to publish, publish, publish. The goal is to use this year to get oneself into a better position in the job market. Being a post-doc is kind of fun, but the post-doc will be under constant scrutiny (and, thus, anxiety). The competition for these positions is intense, but not as intense as a tenure-track job. Earning a post-doc can elevate an academic’s job prospects, which is why an academic might turn down a tenure-track position to take a post-doc, as they are sure that they could get a better position after completing the post-doc.

2. Tenure: The coveted position and eventual goal of most academics in the university. When one earns tenure (after years of hard work), one is almost guaranteed that they will not be fired. Tenure = the ultimate job security. This is different than tenure in K-12 education, as university tenure requires so much more of a person, even after they receive tenure. The process to tenure usually goes as follows:
            a. Student finishes Ph.D. Perhaps takes a post-doc or goes directly into the job market.
            b. Ph.D. or post-doc is hired as an Assistant Professor on a tenure-track.
c. Assistant Professor works hard to publish and give papers at conferences for 6-ish years (with few committee responsibilities). They prepare and submit a huge portfolio of their work to a committee who reviews it in a long process. If the Assistant Prof “passes,” they earn tenure and are promoted to Associate Professor. If they “fail,” they are usually fired and live the rest of their lives with the shame of not earning tenure (and have little chance of ever landing another TT job).
d. The Associate Professor works even harder and is given more committee assignments.
e. An academic can be an Associate Professor for an indefinite period (or for the rest of their career, if they wish). If they choose, they can work hard to be promoted to Professor (by the same process, with no danger of firing), which means a higher pay scale and more committee assignments (and more prestige, more ability to publish, and fewer teaching assignments, as well as more grad students to supervise).

3. Tenure-Track Position (TT): A position that puts a person on the track to tenure. Without being hired on this track, a person cannot earn tenure.

4. Non-Tenure Track Position (NTT): A position that does not include career advancement or tenure. Person may be “re-hired” on a tenure-track eventually, but it is not likely. NTT positions pay much less than TT positions.

5. Visiting Professor: A NTT position. Sometimes, an academic will take this position in hopes that they can impress their colleagues enough to receive a TT offer. This is rare, and Visiting Professors generally end up doing lots of work (teaching) for very little pay and no assurance of tenure.

6. Annual Review: Most universities require that department heads/chairs look over the work, teaching, and service that each professor in the department has done in a year. These are important to make sure that work is distributed appropriately and that TT professors are on track to tenure.

7. Faculty Development Leave (FDL): Usually time off that is paid for by the university. A professor is supposed to use this time to publish ferociously. Most faculty take this time when they are working on a book. Indeed, if you read the acknowledgments of most philosophy books, they will thank a university or foundation for supporting them during FDL, which implies that it is extremely difficult to invest the time it takes to write a book without time off.

8. Jobs for Philosophers (JFP): An annual publication by the American Philosophical Association where institutions advertise any academic positions in their philosophy department. This has always been published on paper (it looks like a small newspaper), but JFP has been recently added online, too, though most philosophers believe that both the online and paper additions are poorly done. This does not keep job-seekers from ordering the paper or checking online.

These aren’t specific to philosophers, per se (except for JFP), but they are really important things to understand as your philosopher progresses in academia. So next time you wonder why your newly hired Assistant Professor friend (on a TT) seems so stressed out (after all, they just got a sweet job, which is really hard to do in philosophy!), remember that they’ve got a long way to go before they earn some job security.

~The Philosiologist

You can follow me on twitter (@Philosiologist), friend me on facebook (Philosiologist Qed), or add me to your circle on Google+ (Philosiologist Qed). You can also send me an email (left sidebar).